Archive for May 2014

A surprise arrives via the parcel man from Early Years Resources   Leave a comment

One of the more pleasing aspects of becoming a bit more well known within the wider early years sector, is that I get asked to take part in things, to sign things, and to comment on things.

And a couple of months ago I was asked if I would like to comment on the new Childminder Selection catalougue from Early Years Resources – as I had ordered things from this company in the past (mainly sale items it has to be said) I thought ‘why not’ – and so asked for a catalogue to be sent.

When it arrived I was quite taken with it  – the A5 size of the catalogue , the selection of items including the size of packs making them suitable for childminders, but also the multi pack option, so could share with colleagues and benefit from large pack discounts – and the links to other items in the main catalogue.

There were a few things that I thought could be further developed and a few things I thought could be added – and so I sent these suggestions in with my feedback about the catalogue.

To my surprise, I received an email back to say the MD liked my suggestions and would like to work with me – and more to the point would I like to review some items for them.

Well I did not need asking twice! My reputation and thirst for new resources is well known by my family, friends, parents of children using my childminding service – and readers of this blog.

So I sent a list of things from the childminder catalogue that I did not already have – and that were appropriate to the stages of development and interests of the children in my care – and said ‘choose and surprise me’

And in due course we had a delivery from our favourite delivery man Mr.Singh – the children love him because he is always bringing parcels and he smiles at the children and answers their questions (brave man – they have lots of questions!)

On this particular day – although Penny had had an email telling her what was in the parcel that Mr.Singh was delivering – Penny had not told the children about the parcel ‘What is in the parcel?’ they asked Mr.Singh ‘ I don’t know’ he said ‘You will have to open it to find out’ I find it interesting that the children assume the delivery driver knows what is in the parcels that he brings us.

Anyway, we say goodbye to Mr. Singh and get the parcels inside – first surprise for the children – they had to wait for Penny to get the camera and to take pictures of the sealed boxes! (Well if I am going to review an item – I am going to do it properly)



The boxes were opened and we all peered inside – to be honest the children were still a bit puzzled, although they could identify a star – so spontaneous singing of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’

















We then took the contents out of boxes and opened the packets      – this is what we discovered














Can we use them? asked the children – Of course they could – but first a few more pictures which the children kindly and happily helped me to do.    Once the pictures had been taken we looked for places to hang up the weaving frames – my intention is that they will go in the outside environment  but for now the doors in the lounge and a cupboard would have to do – the children selected ribbons and pipecleaners from the vast range of weaving materials that we had been sent – and ‘got stuck in’











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Then when they had finished their weaving – about an hour later – they decided to use the weaving materials in another way – like this



This is the only photo without happy faces in it – but the children made lots of lines with the weaving materials all over the lounge – playing for at least another 30 mins.

Personal Evaluation of the weaving frames and weaving materials

I am personally very impressed with the quality of the weaving frames – they should last for years and years and stand up to whatever small children do to them / with them, and with the plastic coating will be easy to clean. The selection of weaving materials sent is comprehensive and encourages imaginative use.

The children in my care were keen to play and explore, were fully engaged and creative in their use of this item. They have experienced weaving before with my home made resources but they remained engaged for a longer period of time with this resource. I plan to offer this experience again, and to observe their interest and use. Personally I think they will extend their own learning and come up with even more ways to weave and be creative – time will tell.


For those who are interested in this resource here are the official details from Early Years Resources

Product image

View weaving-frames.jpg in slide show




Link to weaving frame special offer

The weaving materials were selected by Early Years Resources and included pipe cleaners, different types of ribbons, and different widths of ribbons.


I would like to express my thanks to Early Years Resources for giving myself and the children at Penny’s Place the opportunity to review this product.






Report about the responses to the consultation on inspecting childminder agencies   2 comments

I was one of the 600 (or so) people who responded to the online  Ofsted consultation which ran from 23rd January to 21st March – and according to the report Ofsted also gathered views of others through other means.

Ofsted have now published their report into the consultation and the responses made – and so this blog will focus on that report and my personal understanding of the report.

If you have not read it yet – you can do so by CLICKING HERE

You can read the Nursery World article on this report HERE

and to read the CYPN article CLICK HERE


As I am a member of so many groups and organisations within the Early Years sector – I need to make it very clear that the views expressed in this blog are my personal views and are not those of any person or group or organisation that I work with or are involved with.

Before I start though I think everyone should remember and take into consideration that those responding were not doing so because they agree with childminding agencies or they don’t – they were responding, knowing that Childminding agencies would be happening (due to complete lack of any major amendment within the progress of the then Children and Families Bill) and so were commenting about the importance of getting the inspection of childminder agencies right.

Many of those responding still do not want to personally join a childminder agency BUT as we are going to get them anyway, felt it was better to comment about the inspection of them – than to not comment.

Luckily this is a short report – just 9 pages long, and the first 3 pages just contain the cover page info, the Ofsted ‘about us’ blurb and the contents page. So it is not until page 4 that we cam begin unpicking the detail of the response.

On page 4 it says 68% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with Ofsted’s proposal for no notice inspections.

I think this is right – if agencies are supposed to have robust systems as the basis of their inspection and the resulting judgement / grade that they are given – then these robust systems should be in place all the time.

This does not mean that 68% are in favour of childminder agencies – just that they think that Ofsted should carry out ‘no notice’ inspections.

Still on page 4, they say 61% strongly agreed or agreed that inspectors should make ‘an overall effectiveness’ judgement on the quality of a childminder agency.

And again – so they should – after all, we all have this overall judgement currently – so why shouldn’t childminder agencies

As before this does not mean that 61% support childminder agencies – the question was not ‘Do you support childminder agencies?’ therefore it can not be assumed that those who responded do or do not support childminder agencies

And finally, for page 4 – 63% strongly agreed or agreed that Ofsted should use a four point scale for judgements.

That is the only point those 61% were agreeing with.

Moving onto page 5 and more statements about people strongly agreeing to or agreeing to the proposals – hardly a surprise really when the questions are about agencies self evaluation, that parents and agency childminders views should be part of the evidence gathered during an inspection, and that agency reports should be on the Ofsted website.

Of course people will agree as these points apply to individual Ofsted inspections of all early years settings – so it is about trying to ensure some form of consistency.

However none of the questions and the responses are about if respondents support childminder agencies.

The rest of page 5 is about parent views from those parents that Ofsted spoke to directly – however it does not say how many parents they spoke to.

The parents view was similar to that of the on line responses – of particular note is parents thought Ofsted should not take too much notice of an agencies view of themselves because parents thought agencies would just promote their positive aspects and not highlight their weaknesses.

Extremely sensible thoughts by the parents – but actually the whole idea of robust systems is that agencies can promote the things they are good at and just not mention other aspects. Their training and QA systems will be self regulating – by the agency – apart from the few childminders that Ofsted will visit as part of the agency inspections.

So my question has to be why will agencies be able to carry out their own QA of what they do – and Ofsted just check the robust systems?

Pages 6 and 7 give the actual response percentages

Pages 8 and 9 say what will happen next – and in my opinion this is very interesting!

I have copied and pasted from the report for this part of the blog – my comments from this point in blue

No notice of inspection to childminder agencies

  1. We will provide further clarity around the practicalities of inspecting agencies with no notice, given that part of the inspection will involve sampling individual childminders. Ofsted’s approach is to give all providers little or no notice, which is a fundamental part of seeing an organisation at inspection ‘as it is’. We will give this proposal careful thought as we develop our inspection arrangements.

So Ofsted admit there may be some difficulties in implementing this – so giving it careful thought. In my opinion if Ofsted do not carry out NO Notice inspections – they can not claim to have taken on board consultation responses or to be providing a fair or consistent inspection experience. In my opinion all inspections should be ‘NO notice’ inspections.


Overall effectiveness judgement

  1. Given the support for this proposal we will include an ‘overall effectiveness’ judgement in our inspections of childminder agencies. We will be clear in our inspection guidance about the meaning of the agency’s ‘overall effectiveness’ judgement.

So some clear guidance for inspectors – but as I have found out guidance is just that guidance and so inspectors do not have to follow it and can use their professional judgement. Thus one inspector may have a different idea about what ‘overall effectiveness’ means to other inspectors. In my opinion this should not be guidance it should be set in stone as to what aspects are to be considered and what – in detail – contributes to this judgement – and what would be considered ineffective.

Four-point scale

We welcome the support for this proposal, and will implement a four-point grading scale for childminder agency inspections

On the face of it – good news  – but is it? We know that inspection grades are down to not only inspectors professional judgement but also down to inspectors ability to actually view / gather sufficient evidence; their ability to record that evidence truthfully – and to use the evidence gathered effectively. If it is not happening now – can we be sure it will happen in the future with inspections of childminder agencies.

Use of self-evaluation

  1. The clear support for this proposal indicates that we should encourage self-evaluation as a means through which agencies can identify strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to improve. Given the potentially wide variety of businesses and organisations that will run agencies, we do not think it is sensible to prescribe a particular form of self-evaluation, nor can we require agencies to do this when it is not a legal requirement. We will therefore develop an inspection framework that allows inspectors to take into account the outcomes from an agency’s self-evaluation, whatever form that takes. In addition, we will make clear in our evaluation schedule for childminder agencies that the failure by an agency to undertake any kind of assessment of its strengths and areas for improvement may affect its quality judgement at inspection.

Of course at this suggestion, I personally despair – because although in principle this sounds not only a good idea but excellent professional practice – if an inspector does not bother to check documentation or to ask the ‘right questions’ or give time for further evidence to be provided at feedback time – the whole process will be ineffective – as I know from my own personal experience. I can only hope that because Ofsted are now taking the inspectors training in house and considering if the contracts with the inspection companies should be renewed – that things will improve and my personal experience will not be repeated in the future by any other setting / childminder agency.

Views of childminders and parents or carers

  1. We believe that evidence from stakeholders is important in helping to inform the inspection judgements, and this was endorsed by those who responded to the consultation. We will therefore make it clear that we expect the agency to seek the views of its individual childminders and parents or carers as part of assessing its own quality. These views are likely to influence the judgements that we make about the quality of the agency.


Again an excellent suggestion and can only aid effective reflective practice – however if the views gathered are not looked at and no effort is made to speak to parents or agency childminders, then effective judgements will not be made. I am placing a lot of trust in Ofsted to get ‘their act together’ not just for childminder agency inspections but for all early years inspections. 

And if readers are thinking that I am being very negative just because of my own experience – this is not the case – I know of a significant number of childminders and other early years settings who have had a similar experience to myself. I have been reassured by Ofsted that they are aware of some issues and are working hard to ensure that inspectors are consistent and follow the training and guidelines provided 

Publication of childminder agency inspection reports on the Ofsted website

  1. We will publish childminder agency inspection reports on our website. We will ensure that we develop an inspection report template that makes it clear to parents and childminders how we have reached our judgements about the quality of the agency.

Whilst I agree this should happen and agency reports should be on the Ofsted website, this is not going to compensate for the lack of individual agency childminder reports. It is going to be very hard for some one not using an agency childminder to access their report or to put in a complaint about that person. It is ok to say the agency or the parents using a agency childminder will be able to put in a complaint – but how can a member of the public, or another professional put in a complaint if they do not know any details about that person – and nor will Ofsted, In this scenario the difficulties that could be encountered are explained.

If I see a person with 3 under fives in my town  – who it is clear that the children are not her birth children – especially as has a logo T.Shirt on saying… Penny’s Place  – who is shouting at and swearing at the children – and also dragging one by the arm – what can I do? At the moment I could phone Ofsted who may be able to search using the name Penny’s Place – or I could phone my LA who may know who has a setting called Penny’s Place BUT in the future not all childminders will be listed with Ofsted – so not a lot of point calling them, not all childminders will be supported by the LA, so not a lot of point phoning the. At the moment I could do an internet search that might provide details about Penny’s Place – but with childminder agencies potentially providing marketing services through their website – a internet search may be pointless. So in this scenario – how could I complain about / report this bad practice?

And it will be equally difficult for a parent to find out information about all the childminders in their area – or to compare the inspection reports between all types of settings – and should one area have more than one agency – the difficulties will multiple.

In conclusion – the responses to this consultation are not a surprise, as everyone – if they personally agree with childminder agencies or not – is concerned about the quality of childminder agencies and so have responded with this in mind.

What is clear is that the respondents have not indicated if they support childminders agencies or not

And what is also clear is that despite there just being 3 clear months before childminder agencies are going to be rolled out in September 2014 – there are still a huge number of unanswered questions.

The responses to the consultation on childminder agencies and changes to the local authority role – will be interesting and may answer a few more questions; however the things that we really need to know about,  the Government do not intend to answer –  saying that each agency will set their own model.  In my opinion this is not good enough and people – parents and childminders, need this information to make an informed decision. The least that the Government can do NOW – is list those who are going to set up childminder agencies and for those people to publish their business model details – in full.

Time is running out

A visit to the Farm Park   Leave a comment


Our fostering agency is based at Top Barn and on the same site is a Farm Park.  Information  can be found here LINK TO TOP BARN FARM WEBSITE, and so when it was suggested that I might like to spend every Wednesday at the fostering agency site Site  during term time I said a very definite ‘Yes Please’  – even though at that time, I thought I would be paying to use the site

Base consists of three old but very usable static caravans – one has a lounge area, a kitchen area and a large area that is used for crafts and where we have lunch on very wet days.

Another caravan has a lounge area, a kitchen area, a toy room and a indoor sandpit room (the third caravan is not for children to use). there is also a training room, storage containers, male and female toilets  ……. and several large poly tunnels  ……. and lots of space to run, explore and generally have fun outside.


And so myself and my friend Carol and my daughter Michelle (both registered childminders) now go to the fostering agency site most Wednesday’s during term time – and so far they have refused to take any payment at all for the use of their site.

Although our visits vary there are things we do most weeks – for example we walk to the farm shop to buy our snack items – going past the lake (on the other side of the road)  and the farm animals that are in the outside fields of the Farm Park – so the sheep, the goats and the donkeys

We water and care for the things that we are growing in the poly tunnels – and use the child sized watering cans, and gardening tools that we have provided but leave on site for everyone to use.














The children always play outside – they love having the space and the freedom, as once the gate is closed the area is secure. They nearly always want some sort of water play (current favourite being painting the storage container with water and real paint brushes), and enjoy running, hiding and chasing games.















There is always a creative activity available either via the basic resources that we keep in the caravan – such as paints, paper, stickers, glue sticks, crayons and scissors; or via a prepared activity that we bring with us to support interests and background themes – for example when we did a minibeast hunt we took some minibeast related activities – not that the children use them, as to be honest, we usually take prepared activities back to our settings to do at another time, because the children are too busy leading their own play to want to do a creative activity.

Recently the children have been engaging in a game of mums, dads and babies – and this has extended over several weeks in the outside environment.

Other activities that the children have enjoyed in the outside environment, have included making dens, and an Easter Egg Hunt, a mini beast hunt  – but again being honest the children prefer not to have adult led activities  – and that is fine.

Farm Park at Top Barn Farm

However, one adult led experience  that has been really enjoyed by the children is the visit to the Farm Park – which we have now done twice – mainly it has to be said because during May – and within school hours – it has been FREE admission to the Farm Park.

During our first visit we walked round the animals and the children played on the toy tractors and had a go at throwing and kicking the balls through the target holes – but it was a short visit as we had not taken lunch with us and so needed to get back to the base at lunch time.

Our second visit on Wednesday 21st May was a much longer visit, as on this occasion we took a picnic lunch with us.

Being inside the Farm Park is a totally different experience to that of seeing the animals in the outer fields on our walk to the Farm Shop; we can see the animals close up; we can of course see the animals in the far and middle fields and pens – so  the pigs, the ducks, the chickens  and the rabbits .

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We can also see and read the information signs about the animals – so we found out the animals names, when they were born and a little bit of information about them. The older children were surprised to find out that the Donkeys were 4 like them. They also learnt that they should not put their fingers near the animals mouths because they might bite. I should explain that the children are used to information signs when we are out and about – as we see information signs on our forest walks, when we go to the museums, and of course signs in shops, and road signs(both when walking and when in the car travelling somewhere) – and so the children all have a very good understanding about signs and why we have signs, and they actively look for information signs and ‘read’ them either with help of picture clues, or their own ‘story’ based on what they can see around them – and in the case of the older children some recognition of letters and numbers which they point to and shout out – ‘I can see m for Mummy’ or ‘I can see a number  4 –  like me’

Lots of discussion about lots of subjects as we went round – just a few example;

Is that animal  hot with that woolly coat on?’ (referring to the Alpaca’s – so discussion about how they might have the wool cut short later on, but how  it is still cold because although the sun was shining,  the wind was blowing)

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‘ Why do the chicks under the light smell?’ (They did, so a discussion about the poo and the heat from the light)

‘Why are the chickens making holes in the mud?’ (discussion about might want to lay eggs in the hole or to just find a comfy place for a rest – and child asking the question, said but they have their special boxes to lay eggs  – she is right of course as can seen in picture below)

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‘Is that a mummy pig cause it has nipples?’ (discussion about boys and girls having nipples but not ‘boobies’ – as the child asking the question calls breasts) and then child peering under pig to look for other body parts to see if had a willy or not – and declaring that no willy so it is a mummy pig.

‘Has that pig got babies in its big tummy?’ (discussion that yes we think so – leading to discussion about my youngest daughter Rosie’s big tummy – who is indeed pregnant)

‘ Look at that baby horse’ (referring to the Shetland ponies – and so discussion about sizes and the fact that being small does not always mean being a baby).

‘Why are we sitting under here for lunch?’ (discussion about the shade provided)

…. and more, much more.

And to the delight of the children, after lunch they could use the wooden adventure playground and play in the huge undercover sand pit and those who needed a nap, had one in their lie back buggies in the shade.

We then went back to base – and did we follow up our visit to the Farm Park with colouring sheets, and maths sheets for adding little pictures of animals up and the like?

Of course not…………….

…… the children wanted to get out the paint brushes to water paint everything in sight

and to run around without us adults saying ‘stay close’ , ‘wait for the others to catch up’, (which of course adults have to do when in a public space with children)

and to get the dolls and doll pushchairs out and continue their mums. dads and baby game

…… and after a while to water their their plants.

The discussions about the visit to the Farm Park came later – in my case back at Penny’s Place when we printed the photo’s and recalled our day,  and when Mum’s and Dad’s came to collect and we told them all about our day.

Of course visits to Farms and Farm Parks are popular things to do with children, and many early years settings go on such outings — and from discussion with   June O’Sullivan, I know that some of the children from the LONDON EARLY YEARS FOUNDATION   were visiting PADDINGTON FARM TRUST.  I understand June is writing a blog about their farm experience which you will be able to read HERE once it is published.

In fact I recommend that if you have not taken a look at June’s blogs already, that you do so – as in my opinion – well worth a read


However, I think the opportunities that are available to the children attending Penny’s Place (and those of my colleagues who join me) at the fostering agency site are fairly unique and something that we are  very grateful for.

Oh and as if we are not already very lucky ……. there is more!




We return to Arley Arboretum   Leave a comment

Arley Arboretum is one of our favourite places – and because we have season tickets is actually part of our outside environment – much in the same way as an off site Forest School is to other settings.

Last year though we did not make full use of our season tickets, due to the weather, children not being well, and other planned outings on the days that the weather was kind. So together with the winter months when the arboretum is closed it seems like a very long time since we were able to visit.


Indeed for the last few weeks since the arboretum opened, my colleague and friend Carol and I, have been saying we must arrange to go back to the arboretum – and on the  15th May – we did return.

On our arrival, we had to pay for our season ticket – a very reasonable £20 for an adult and £8 for those children over 3, free for the younger children. We were greeted warmly by the lady in the ticket office and we chatted about this and that while filling in the season ticket forms – I felt more like a friend than a visitor.

What neither of us had really considered was the fact that the children in our care yesterday were not familiar with the arboretum – and out of the 6 children with us – only one had been before. This meant we had to consider the visit through new eyes – those of the children who had not been before – and be aware that all of it was a new experience – with a surprise round every corner and through every door or gate along the path.

We started with the fountain area – Carol and I noted that a lot of work had been done in this area over winter – with the paving slabs levelled, new turf in places and more benches for sitting and watching the fountains. One of children with me, was not too sure about this new experience so we did not linger for to long before moving on through the gate into what we call the chicken area.

Indeed the chickens were still there, we looked at them, chatted about them and some of the children choose to count them. But then we noticed that there were some new grass mazes in this area for the children to explore and try to get to the centre of  – so they did – and although I have some lovely photo’s of the children doing this – you – the reader – will just have to make do with this section of a photo – without the children.


Cropped grass maze

We also spotted that the willow arches had grown and there was a new house / tent shaped one – which of course the children want to explore – and the adults were unable to;because as the children correctly said – we are too big.

Continuing our walk and exploring we  spotted some huge poppies and stopped to admire them, before going through the green door.

We used directions – left, right, straight ahead – and stop; to help ensure the children in front not only knew where we were heading but also were kept safe.

As we walked the children were busy ‘finding’ things, daisies, pine cones, big trees and information signs. There was a very big tree and we discussed which was the biggest – the children, the tree or the adults – lots of mathematical language used.

We then ‘found’ a bench – of course Carol and I knew it was there and had sat there before – but the children did not know this. Carol produced from her bag some ‘nature spotter’ sheets, and some coloured pencils. The children chose if they wanted to take part or not – they all did apart from the two babies. The children spotted the items and then made marks on their spotter sheets to show they had found that item , two of them also added their mark to the place for their name – saying ‘I am writing my name’ The 4 year old with me, said what letters she was writing and did a really good job of forming the letters of her name. The 3 yr old with Carol – was very engaged with this activity and continued it even when we said it was time to find the picnic place – when she spotted things, she stopped to mark her spotter sheet.

Between us we found lots of things; spiders webs, ants, blossom on bushes (and we smelt it to see if it was a nice smell or not – mixed opinion about this) ants crawling on the floor, a buzzy bee, blossom on the floor (which some of the children – and Carol – threw in the air) big trees, hairy trees, rough trees, bumpy trees (talking about the bark of course) the laburnum arch covered with flowers (and extended from last year) plus carpets of bluebells and big thistle type flowers, we found feathers, more daisies, bits of bark, big pine cones and sticks.

And then we ‘found’ the perfect picnic place – not the one where we had picnicked often last year and the year before – but another place where we had rolled down the hill before – but where a picnic bench had been added – making it the perfect picnic place.

So picnic rugs on the floor and we all had lunch – and we all watched the trains from Severn Valley Railway go past.




After our picnic, and nappy changes for the little ones, we headed back towards the car, and before we left we had a chat to the Head Gardener who also greeted us as ‘old friends’ – and asked us if we had spotted the new adventure playground – we hadn’t, as we had not got that far round – well said the Head Gardener – ‘It is lovely, all wooden and just right for your bigger children (meaning the 3 and 4 year olds) and it opens at Spring Bank Holiday’


We were of course thinking of going back – hence the season tickets — but now we have even more reason to do so

Worcestershire Pre school Learning Alliance Sub Committee – Meet and Greet Event   1 comment

This event took place on Wednesday 14th May 2014 at Perdiswell in Worcester. It was in fact the first event put on by the sub committee since the Worcestershire sub committee was reformed in September 2013 at the AGM.

Between the AGM and this event – a lot has happened – but maybe not that visible to those outside the committee.

We have held several committee meetings and we have begun to get our heads around the policies and procedures of being a volunteer for the Pre school Learning Alliance – by ‘we’ I mean Linda – the treasurer, and myself – the Chair – just the two of us. We have learnt a lot – but still have more to learn – these things don’t happen overnight.

We have both signed up to attend divisional meetings  but unfortunately could not attend the first event because of the dreadful floods around that time. I (Penny) have attended the National Forum meeting in London and was involved in helping set the wheels in motion for the Alliance strategic Plan for the next 3 years. It was lovely to be included and to be able to express the views of Worcestershire members

We have sent out our first newsletter – and of course organised this event.

As both Linda and myself work full time it has not been easy to get things organised and we are very grateful for the support of the Regional Office. However we have been the ones driving this forward  to support the settings in Worcestershire. We have had a few issues that we had to overcome, such as not all settings receiving the newsletter – and the order for the publications and raffle prizes being delayed. Not too mention only 4 people booking for the event.

Some last minute publicity resulted in 8 people attending – representing both group members and childminder members. We had the support of both National and Regional staff and the services of an excellent Alliance trainer – Lesley Senter.

The evening started with coffee and network opportunities – a feature that we plan to have at all our events – as not only are those networking opportunities vital – having a delayed start to the official agenda of an event allows those attending a little bit of flexibility if they are running late for some reason – and so don’t have to panic about being late for the ‘proper’ start. Essential we think when everyone – including Linda and myself – lead such busy lives with so many other commitments.

It was during these informal chats over coffee, that I realised that we have a bit of a communication problem here in Worcestershire (although I don’t think we are unique in this). It seems members are not all getting their member magazine Under 5, and some were not getting their member e bulletins. Also none of those attending last night attended the AGM in September because they had not heard about it. So something is clearly not working and we need to find out what is happening and resolve the issue.

As we had sent out some last minute information via the media – is was good to see that some had come along as a result of that media based information – and so again we need to look at this.

After the networking, we grouped in a horseshoe shape gathering of chairs, and I welcomed everyone, and everyone said who there were and where they were from – some people said a little more – and in particular our guests Rita Sutton from the Alliance National Office and Jo Randall from the Regional Office. They do of course have official titles but as the event was very informal and everyone chatted as if friends (and I hope we do all become friends – or at least close colleagues) I am not going to mention their official job titles. In my opinion, the title you have does not make you any more important than anyone else or your opinion any more valid than anyone else’s.

Having said that it was very useful to have the information available about aspects of the Alliance that neither Linda or I hold in our heads – and we are very grateful that Rita and Jo attended to support us – especially as they had spent the day moving the Regional Office into its new office space.

I also outlined the agenda for the evening – and the reason why we had arranged this event

First reason is because Worcestershire sub committee does have a healthy bank balance and we want to (no, we must) spend it on what Worcestershire members want – so the only way to do that is to ask the members. So we need to know what members want – some possibilities are;

  • Statutory training
  • Formal training courses
  • Networking events
  • Social events
  • Guest speaker events – and not necessarily only about childcare related things – as practitioners our own well being is important
  • Hands on workshops – so making things and trying things
  • Peer support events – where everyone brings some thing to share

Second reason – Worcestershire sub committee is very small – in fact just Linda and myself – which constitutionally is ok and we do have the support of Alliance staff – but Alliance staff can’t really help with the hands on and everyday stuff.

Before everyone stops reading – and this was stressed at the event – so that those attending did not get up and leave the room! We are not looking for committee members and we will not be ‘twisting arms’ or applying pressure to people to join the committee.

However, it is clear that as Linda and I have full time jobs, hold other volunteer roles and have family commitments ( the same as everyone else) we are going to need help with some things – so our thoughts are if members in Worcestershire could support in small ways – as and when they can, that together not only will things be easier to manage but that together we can make a difference to Alliance member settings in Worcestershire – which in turn will support the families and children in Worcestershire.

As we discussed at the event, these are the sort of ‘small ways’ that members may be able to support the Alliance Worcestershire sub Committee.

  • If attending a meeting or training or event – arrive a bit early and – help set out chairs, or ‘man’ the signing in table, or set up refreshments or help move things from cars into the room – and so on – each task taking less than 30 mins and normally less than 15 mins – but making a huge difference in spreading the workload
  • Same at end of meetings and events – if people could stay behind for an extra 10 mins we could all be finished and out of the venues a lot quicker
  • Provide a free room in your own setting for committee meetings – we would need room for up to 10 people – but usually only 4 or 5 people – so even a home based setting could be suitable
  • Provide a room in your setting for training or other slightly larger events where maybe we need space for up to 20 people
  • Give us details of halls and so on it your locality so we can move meetings and events around the county without the need to research where these halls are – and if it is hall belonging to an organisation that you belong to – we would be very grateful if we could benefit from a discount price
  • Offer to make a cake or buy biscuits for a meeting or event – we can reimburse the actual cost of these things – but often we just don’t have the time to stop off at a shop to buy these things.
  • Sit in on a committee meeting and give your views – this is important as with just two  of us trying to decide what is best for Worcestershire settings – we really do need the input of others. Please note this is not about becoming a committee member – anyone who expresses an interest in joining us for committee meeting – now and then, as and when they can – will be sent the agenda for each meeting in advance so they can make an informed decision about if they want to pop along for that meeting or not.
  • Provide your expertise in a particular area – for example you may be good at typing things up (I’m not); you may be good at taking minutes; you (or someone you know) may have a hobby that you can share with other adults or with children – either as a demonstration or as a hands on workshop; You may be really good at thinking of craft ideas that we could share via the newsletter – and so on.
  • Basically there are lots of ways that you could help – that you do not have to give a commitment to – but that will make a difference if you can help –   on a now and then.

And the third reason for the event was to provider a taster of what we can offer as a sub committee – which is where Lesley Senter comes in . Lesley has been involved with the Pre School Learning Alliance for many years – and like many of us has seen ideas and Government requirements come and go.

Lesley had been asked to provide something that was FUN and that provided not only a less serious side to early years planning and curriculum but that also provided sound research based reasons as to why planning is not always needed and does not always lead to the best outcomes for the children.

And Lesley certainly provided a taster workshop that ticked all the boxes that we required ticking. It was fun – I an sure that none of us will ever forget Lesley doing her impression of some bagpipes or her impression of the Early Years Minister who appeared to have a vaguely  Scottish based voice.

(The Scottish connection was due to my information sharing about my visit to Edinburgh the previous weekend and the Patrick Geddes gardens that I had learnt about and visited.)

It was really good to see so many smiling faces and so much laughter – it certainly took me back to my early days with the association which had begun before the name change to Pre School Learning Alliance.

I am personally a firm believer that if you ask people to come out to training / events / meetings in their own time – and often at their own expense – then it must be enjoyable, and it must give them ‘something; to take away in terms of new knowledge or information rather than in terms of goody bags.

The evening seemed to go really quickly and we had some very positive comments about Lesley’s session and about the event in general – everyone went home with a goody bag – and everyone selected a publication from the free raffle.

I will now be emailing those that attended and asking for their thoughts about what they would like the Worcestershire sub committee to provide for their members and once we have the information we will plan our next event, next newsletter and our AGM

If you are a Worcestershire based setting and did not attend the Meet and Greet event on the 14th May – Please do get in touch- if you provide the committee with your email address then we will be able to communicate directly with you (data protection prevents both Regional Office and National Office from sharing  your contact details at the moment)

If you are interested in popping into the next committee meeting it is on Wednesday 4th June – please let us know, and I will ensure you get the agenda and full details

Finally Linda and I are keen to help, support and advice Alliance members in Worcestershire – we may not always know the answers to your questions – but we know a lot of other people within the Allaince who might know – so just ask us your questions and if we don’t know – we will ask someone else and get back to you

You can email me – Penny Webb  as follows –

or Linda as follows –



Posted May 15, 2014 by psw260259 in Pre School Learning Alliance

At the end of the day – It all boils down to who is telling the truth   4 comments

Those of you who are following my inspection story – will have guessed that this blog is the next one in my documentation of the malicious complaint against me, my brought forward inspection experience and the resulting navigation of the complaints system.

Those of you who are only picking up the story at this point , I suggest you take the time to read some of the previous blogs that tell my story.


I am now at the end of stage 3 of the complaints process – in that Ofsted have looked into my complaint about the investigation by Prospects of my complaint about my inspection.


My co minder who had her individual inspection at the same time by the same inspector, is also at the end of her stage 3 complaint.

This blog is not going to go over previous aspects of our complaints – because there is absolutely NO POINT

You see what we have both discovered is, if the inspector has wrote something in the toolkit – it is taken as gospel – the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So no matter what a provider says – it will not be believed, not investigated, not checked in anyway – because;

If the inspector says he or she checked specific documents – then it is the truth  – if it is in the tool kit

If the inspector says the evidence supported a certain judgement – then that is the truth if that evidence is in the tool kit

If the inspector did not look at the available evidence – even if the evidence was there  in the setting on inspection day, but says sufficient evidence was gathered – it is the truth – because that is what it says in the tool kit.

If the inspector does not follow the inspection guidance  it does not matter because it is just guidance – even though it uses words as the inspector ‘should’ or ‘must’

If the inspector says looked at  documents in general – but did not look at any documents  – then it is the truth – if it has been entered in the tool kit

If the inspector say they went in various rooms or outside – it is the truth – if it has been entered in the tool kit that they did.


I could continue this list but I am sure you get the picture – if it is in the tool kit – it is the truth.


So my question is – how do inspectors prove this is the truth – other than their word?

As a provider my word is not good enough – I am not believed because I don’t have a tool kit – it is my word against what the inspector has recorded.

In my case I have not seen any evidence to back up the evidence in the tool kit – for example – there are no details about document such as ‘for example this policy says this or that, no evidence of children’s records for example ‘the provider has support a child with x or y, no evidence of parent questionnaires being read for example’ a parent said … the provider responded by …’

If inspectors did record specific examples at least this would be something concrete that could be proved or disproved – provided actual evidence could be checked in the setting or by sending it in as part of the investigation.

If inspectors were required to take away a certain amount of evidence from the setting such as copies of policies or newsletters or whatever available – then if a complaint was made, then the investigation team would have a starting point.


It seems to me that Ofsted, and the inspections company do not accept that the inspector may be capable of not gathering all the evidence, of not recording facts honestly – and certainly there seems to be the opinion that it is inconceivable that evidence in the tool kit may be flawed in any way.

In my case the only bit of my complaint that was upheld was the fact that the inspector could not have made a quality judgement about my ‘teaching’ in the outside environment because she was not outside! However because the inspector says she could observe me from her position inside this is accepted as the truth – even though there is no evidence that she could see or hear me in her report. I can only assume there is no evidence in the tool kit – as she could not see or hear what was going on in the outside environment.

Having said that the report did say that I have wheeled toys outside when I do not – so clearly information had been entered into the tool kit that was not factually correct.

So my second question is – if it is agreed that some aspects of an inspectors report are not factually correct – why is it assumed that the rest of the evidence gathered is factual or sufficient to make any judgement.


Which brings me to why I am continuing with my complaint;

This is not about the grade given as in I think the inspector should have awarded me a different grade

It is because I believe the inspector did not do her job – she did not gather sufficient evidence, she did not record things factually or honestly – and so in my opinion she was unable to make a judgement.

This is also evidenced by the fact that during feedback she did not use her recorded evidence to justify her judgement – it was simplely an announcement of the grade given.

Her recommendations were based on personal opinion and a lack of gathering sufficient evidence

But at the end of the day – it all comes down to who is telling the truth – me? or the inspector?

And given that we are both human, both capable of not telling the truth, both capable of trying to protect ourselves – in my case my professional standing as a passionate, honest childcare provider – and in the inspectors case …. well may she is also trying to retain her standing as a professional, honest childcare inspector.


So the only difference between us – is she has a tool kit – and I don’t, so because what is in the tool kit is the truth I, nor my co minder nor my colleagues up and down the country  stand a chance in having our complaints upheld

No wonder so many complaints are not upheld


If Ofsted have managed to create a recording system that can automatically decide if the entries are true or not – then Ofsted should be selling it world wide, as the applications for such a system are endless!






Early Education conference – Saturday 10th May – The main event and more of my rambling   4 comments

Continuing my recall …..

…….. After very little sleep (about an hour) I am up early and getting cross with the hotels internet connection! I wanted to use the time to deal with emails, and social media connected communications. At the moment, I am getting huge amounts of emails every day – sometimes several hundred – and even after deleting the ‘junk’ ones there are still a lot that need a response.

As a childminder this means that I need to find time outside my hands on childminding to do some of these tasks – and as an aside – I have started to write this part of my recall about the Early Education conference at 6am on Monday 12th May – and after I have tidied the house, and transformed it into a setting, unpacked from the weekend, put the washing on, done my ironing and many other tasks that need doing as a result of being away at the weekend. – one of the ‘problems’ of being a childminder is, if you have been away at the weekend, you can not just get up. shut your front door, go to work, and deal with everything after work – or even the next weekend ; you actually have to do everything to ensure your home is ready to be a childcare setting before the children arrive – in my case today – a  later start than usual as the first child is due at 7:30 am.

So having got that aside out of the way, I will continue my recall – I won’t finish recording it before first child arrives but will complete  later on today – either at lunch time when Mr.Penny’s Place is in the setting, and so able to support me with the care of the children, or after the last child has left – and in my case today that means after 18:30 tonight.

So after the frustrations of the internet connection, and breakfast in the hotel where I managed to eat some weetabix (and Mr.Penny’s Place managed to eat my cooked breakfast as well as his own), We set off to find the City Chambers – Mr.Penny’s Place was not going to the conference but had a day of sight seeing ahead of him and so it made sense to walk together to the conference venue and to say our goodbyes there.

The City Chambers were quite easy to find – set back from the street with a courtyard in front – and covered in scaffolding and some attractive screen printed netting (much nicer than the usual brightly coloured cargo type netting you usually see). However although more attractive, the netting did of course mean the visual impact of this building was not that good.

I was greeted by bagpipes playing and a friendly person asking me if I had come for the Early Education conference – and when I said yes – directed me inside where another friendly person directed me up the grand staircase. I have to say this welcome was much appreciated as it meant all those nerves about ‘Am I in the right place’ ‘Where do I go’ ‘Who do I ask’ vanished – so thank you, whoever thought of that welcoming idea..

Upstairs I was officially welcomed by yet more friendly people, given my name badge and my conference pack – and directed to the main conference room – and told where refreshments and toilets could be found.

In the conference hall, I spotted Sarah from Early Education’s London office, and I smiled but did not speak to her as she was busy setting up the IT stuff. I found a chair, and marvelled at the magnificent room that I was in – take a look HERE if you want to see some images. The main conference  room was the one with the dome in the ceiling.

I then wandered off to find the refreshments, and to have a look at the displays and trade stands – a benefit of arriving early is that you can have a good look before everyone else gets there.

Those who know me well – may now be expecting me to list all the things that I brought – however I did not order or buy one single thing – don’t get me wrong – I saw lots of things that I liked – but travelling by train does limit instant purchases that need to be transported back – and budget restraints mean that ordering to be delivered later was not really an option either. The budget restraints were of course self imposed but the cost of attending the conference was quite high – time I had added travel costs, hotel costs, conference costs – and a day off on Friday – which was unpaid. So no purchases allowed – and for once I stuck to my self imposed condition of attending.

After I had finished my coffee, I went back to the main room and took my seat, passing Helen Moylett on the way – who greeted me – but who I ignored because I did not see her until she had gone past me (in fact I heard her rather than saw her). Sorry Helen.; I spotted the ladies from the nursery that I had spoken to the night before, and exchanged smiles with them as they were sat on the opposite side of the room to me; several other people that I recognised said Hello, before taking their seats.

People started taking seats next to me and in front of me – and we chatted – I realised that I knew some of the names from my social media links – and also realised that some of them had read my blogs. It was rather nice to find this out – and also for people to say ‘I have seen you before – were you at last years conference / the AGM’ – and nice to be able to say ‘yes’.

By ‘Living We Learn’

Before we knew it is was time for the conference to start and Julian Grenier who is Chair of Early Years Education Trustees, opened the conference. Julian welcomed us all, and went through the house keeping for the day – and used the word ‘muster’ in relation to if there was a fire – that we should ‘muster’ over the road.

Julian also mentioned that he was going to take some photo’s and post them on Twitter – and that various people were going to do live updates about the conference – if you use Twitter and want to take a look, this is Early Educations Twitter name @earlyed_uk . (As an aside at lunch time tweets from those in the room and not in the room where displayed on the screen – and when I checked my emails I found out that I had been mentioned a couple of times and so I replied. If you want to check out my tweets, my Twitter name is @PSW26259)

The keynote speech was from Rosemary Roberts on ‘ Growing companionable well being’. For more information about Rosemary CLICK HERE

I had not personally heard Rosemary talk before and so I was keen to hear this speech. I found out that Rosemary has a OBE and that she a founder director of Parents Early Education Partnership (PEEP) which of course I did know about. If you have not heard of PEEP or have heard of it but want to find out a bit more CLICK HERE

As regular readers will know I do not provide word for word feedback about speakers – after all the speakers earn their living from doing these talks and so it would not be right if I gave away the content of their talk for free in my blog.

So my personal overview of Rosemary’s talk. First I could sense the passion about and the commitment to, her field of work, which for me is always a good starting point.

Rosemary spoke about well being – a term which we all use but which has different meanings. For me ‘well being’ is about being able to cope with life and all its positive and negative aspects. Rosemary’s talk agreed with this but also looked at well being through a different lens – and expanded on her own theory based on her personal research. She spoke about 4 interconnecting constructs Agency, Belonging & Boundaries, Communication and Physical – which if you think about do cover the aspects of life that could impact on a child or an adult.

Interestingly (and certainly ringing the truth bells for me –  from my own current personal lack of high levels of well being being caused by a flawed Ofsted inspection and navigation of the equally flawed complaints process) Rosemary spoke about the need for practitioner well being to support the development of child well being. I enjoyed Rosemary’s talk – and it certainly has made me think about the impact of my well being – or rather lack of well being may have on the children I care for.

It was now time for coffee – and as I stood up I realised I had a bit of a problem! In that the lack of eating was now impacting on my well being – and yes I was starting to go hypo – so I was shaking and I was sweating. Luckily coffee and biscuits were not far away, and so I avoided the worse case scenario.

I did manage to have a discussion with someone who is a colleague of one of my Save Childhood Movement colleagues, which was very interesting, and which hopefully continue at some point in the future.

When I returned to the conference hall, it was clear that I was still having a few blood glucose issues and so I found my glucose tablets and ate some. It is a problem for diabetics if for some reason they are unable to eat normally, that they will experience blood glucose levels issues.  I am sure that Ofsted – who are the cause of my stress have no idea of the impact on my well being – but there are causing a lot of stress related issues.

The next speaker was Pattie Santelices – another speaker that I had not heard speak before. So in the usual format you can read about Pattie and her role as Principal Officer of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team with City of Edinburgh Council HERE

Pattie’s talk was based on ‘Why relationships matter’ – and of course I was ‘hooked’ even before Pattie started her talk – as I firmly believe in the importance of relationships. A lot of Pattie’s talk reinforced the message given in Rosemary’s talk and just looked at things from a slightly different perspective. However what I liked about Pattie’s talk was the opportunity to discuss various point with the person sat next to me. I think it would be fair to say that my colleague in the chair next to me – holds similar views to myself – but I find it really useful to discuss these things and to realise that many hold these similar views – including those from different areas of the early years sector.

The final session before lunch was led by Christine McCormick who is Headteacher of Cameron House Nursery School, I did have a quick look but I could not find a website for the nursery – this does not mean there isn’t one – it just means that I did not find it.

I was drawn to Chris’s softy spoken, but clear voice – and her belief that the training they had put  in place for involving parents and school staff was very effective and in part because it was the same training for both staff and parents – however – and sorry Chris if you are reading this – it was the nervous young father sat on the chair at the front that grabbed my attention. Chris had introduced him at the beginning, and kept looking and gesturing with her hands in the direction of the young father through out her talk – and finally he had opportunity to speak. I was drawn to the sparkle in his eye when he spoke about his children, I was impressed with his desire and actions to include his partner in the training – and how he cascaded it all to her, I welcomed his open and honest comments – in a nutshell – I liked him

However, all to quickly it was lunch time.

Lunch was a cold buffet of sandwiches and a few other things – chopped up fruit – plus fruit juice. Which was fine by me as it met my dietary needs and my personal likes about food.

During lunch, I engaged in conversation with a small group of professionals – some of whom I had met before – and some who I had not met. We discussed the mornings session – and that old favourite hot potato – Ofsted I told my inspection story …. and my colleagues were shocked at my experience.

I also had a conversation with the young father who had spoken in the pre lunch session – he is amazing and an inspiration to us all. And he really should think about becoming a trainer – so he can lead sessions for other parents and work in partnership with other professionals

Time was whizzing past – the summons to ‘muster’ back in the main hall went round and we all returned to our seats.

Beatrice Merrick welcomed us back and did a summing up and a ‘whats coming up next’ . Beatrice also mentioned that it is her first conference as at last years conference in York she was not the CE – she also mentioned that Edinburgh is her home town – but that it had all been agreed to well before she took over. However she was glad that we all had opportunity to explore her home town.

The afternoon session was slightly different to the morning session as it was focussed on more fun aspects of communication


Virginia Radcliffe was first to speak, Virginia is the Chief Executive of Lickityspit Child Centred Theatre Company – and yes you can access information by Clicking HERE. Virginia explained how the company started, how it has grown, and how they hope to develop – there were lots of video clips showing the plays and the intertaction with children – and children taking part – with the simplest of materials / props I was struck my the children’s faces, their engagement and their involvement. Virginia had lots of extra info about the plays and things the children had said or done. It certainly made me think about my own setting which is very child led and we do do role play . simple acting and so on – but we could do more – a lot more.

As an aside – on Sunday – inspired by the red berets used by Lickityspit – and the tam o’shanter hats in the shops in Edinburgh – I brought two child sized ones for my setting – maybe I will write a blog one day about what the child used them for.

The last speaker of the day was Eric Brennan, who is a Edinburgh based story teller  – this is Eric’s Facebook page HERE

Eric did a very good job of gaining audience participation through words and actions – and he managed to get across a few valid points about language and the use of props. In my opinion – an excellent way to round off a conference.

Helen Moylett led the closing session – she did the usual thanks and told those in the room that next years conference would be in PLYMOUTH

I hope to be there – maybe I will see you there?

Part three of this blog will follow as soon as possible and will focus on the evening of the 10th May and also the 11th May – including the guided walk round the Patrick Geddes gardens.



Posted May 12, 2014 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended